#61 Epilogue 2: Tell me this is just a nightmare
Warning: this is the very last epilogue. Get your tissues, because this is a tear-jerker… Sorry, guys. It’s the prelude to Marcus’ story.
Four months after the wedding
I roll my eyes at Khiêm when I hear my phone play the ringtone specifically for Marcus. It’s a high-pitched voice saying “brother calling, brother calling, this is your big brother calling”. Khiêm laughs and grabs my phone from the coffee table, since he’s closer. I’m in the kitchen making dinner, while Khiêm is uploading new content to his website and updating his social media profiles.
“Hey Marcus,” Khiêm says happily. “Your sister is a little busy sucking my dick right now. How can I help you?”
“Asshole!” I yell, laughing as I throw a wooden spoon at his head.
“Yeah, baby, that feels so good,” Khiêm grunts, enjoying pissing Marcus off. Suddenly though, his body goes rigid and his eyes go wide. “Wow, shit. Yeah, I’ll hand you to Nia.”
“What?” I ask, turning off the stove and rushing over to take the phone from him. I’m not as fast as I used to be with my big belly, courtesy of being six months pregnant. “What’s going on?”
“Nia,” Marcus’ voice says when I put the phone to my ear. “Are you sitting down?”
“Why do I need to sit down?” I ask, fear filling my heart. “Oh God, who died? Grandma?”
“Sit down,” he repeats, sounding like he’s got no energy at all. He sounds… empty.
I sink down onto the couch, right next to Khiêm, who puts his arm around me, his free hand landing on my belly like it always does, and the baby kicks hard in response, making me wince. “Spit it out,” I order my brother.
“There was a car accident,” he says in a tense voice. “You need to come to the hospital. Right now.”
“Who?” I ask, already getting up to grab my purse and put on my shoes. “Who got hurt?”
“Creed was driving, he’s in surgery right now. Just come, okay?
I can sense that he’s not telling me everything. There is something else. “Marcus, just tell me what’s really going on.”
Marcus breaks, and next thing I know, it’s Dshawn on the phone, telling me to get in my car and drive to the hospital. That he will tell me everything when I get there.
“Tell me now!” I yell into my phone, too on edge to wait. Something bad happened. I can feel it in my bones. My brothers both sound like they’re broken, and that’s not who they are at all. I rush out of the apartment with Khiêm right behind me, and I get into the passenger side so that Khiêm can drive. I don’t think I should be trusted behind the wheel right now. “Dshawn, tell me! Now!”
“It’s Mom and Dad,” he says softly. “Just get over here, Nia.”
I hang up and shout at Khiêm to go faster, even though he’s already breaking traffic laws left and right. I need to get there. It can’t be what I think it is. It just… it can’t be. I rub my belly like that will make everything okay, a habit I developed the moment I started showing.
I jump out of the car before Khiêm even pulls to a full stop, and he speeds off to park it while I run into the hospital, only to realize I have no idea where to go. I call Dshawn, hearing his ringtone right behind me. I turn, and the look on his face as he walks towards me says it all.
“No,” I whimper, grabbing his arms and digging my nails into his skin. “No no no.”
“It was a drunk driver who ignored a red light,” Dshawn says in a grave voice. He’s never looked older than he does today. His normally glowing dark skin is almost greyish, and there are dark circles underneath his puffy red eyes. “Creed was at the grocery store with Mom and they picked up Dad from work. The diver crashed right into the passenger side of the car, where Mom was sitting. Dad was in the back right behind her.”
“And?” I ask urgently. I don’t care about how it happened. All I care about is how they’re doing.
“Creed is in surgery,” Dshawn says, still not giving it to me straight.
“Where are Mom and Dad?” I ask, shaking my older brother. “Tell me!”
“They didn’t make it,” he whispers, closing his eyes. “Mom was killed instantly, and Dad passed away in the ambulance on the way here.”
“They’re… they’re dead?” I ask. The words don’t even register. This can’t be true. This has to be some kind of sick joke.
“Yes,” Dshawn replies so quietly I can barely hear him. “They are.”
“And… and Creed?” I manage to get out, needing to know that at least my younger brother is okay.
“In surgery,” he says with a deep sigh. “He’ll be okay. He broke his arm, and they think he has a perforated lung or something. Nothing they can’t fix.”
“Pierre?” I ask, praying my little brother and sister are okay. “Aliyah?”
“They weren’t in the car, they’re fine. I was already here, Shaughna had a check-up with the twins, so we were with Christopher in the peds unit when I got the call. I called Marcus, who was in his car, so he picked up Aliyah and Pierre, and we called you the moment we heard that Dad… that he too…”
I’m a little surprised that we’re still standing here, talking to each other. Shouldn’t I be crying or screaming or something? Instead, I feel… numb.
“Xīngān? What’s going on?” Khiêm asks behind me, and I lean back into his arms the moment they go around me. My hands fall from Dshawn’s arms, and I can see that I left bloody marks there from digging my nails in so deep.
“Come on,” Dshawn says, motioning for us to follow him. “We’re all in the waiting room.”
I follow him, not even sure how I’m still moving. My feet are dumb. My whole body is.
This is a nightmare. This can’t be real.
The moment the three of us walk into the waiting room and I see Marcus, Pierre and Aliyah huddled together, I know it’s real. Very real. Everyone is crying like they will never stop.
“Nia,” Marcus says, getting up to hug me. He holds me like he’s afraid I will disappear, and I clutch him tightly right back, but still I don’t seem to be able to cry. When Marcus pulls back, Khiêm helps me down onto an uncomfortable plastic chair while he stands behind me, kneading my shoulders.
“Nia, are you okay?” Dshawn asks, kneeling down in front of me. He looks terrible, but he’s keeping it together for all of us, like the good eldest brother he is. This makes him the man of the family, I guess?
“What’s going to happen now?” I ask, my mind going into overdrive. With Mom and Dad gone, that means Pierre and Aliyah no longer have a place to live. They’re the only ones still living at home at age 18 and 14. There is now way we can pay the mortgage on that house unless at least one of us gives up our apartment or house and moves in with them. “We can do that, right?” I ask Khiêm, who looks down on me with a blank expression.
Right, that whole thing was just in my head. He has no idea what I’m asking. Can I ask that of him?
“Do what?” Dshawn asks, taking my hands in his. “You look like you’re going to faint, sis. Deep breaths. Stress isn’t good for the baby.”
Something in me snaps when he says that. Not good for the baby. Our little girl, who is never going to meet his grandparents. Only three more months to go, yet it’s still too much. My mother and father will never get to hold the life Khiêm and I created. Mom was so happy when we told them I was pregnant, and Dad even cried. And now, they will never see her cute little face, or get to spoil her, and teach her all the things they taught me.
“Oh God,” I breathe, starting to tremble. “Oh God.”
“I know,” Dshawn murmurs. “I know, Nia.”
“We need to… we need to make a list,” I say, pulling out my phone. “We need to plan a funeral, figure out how to pay for the house, Khiêm and I will move in there so Aliyah can finish high school while living in the old house, and we need to figure out all finances, really. We should contact all our family members, and the school, and-”
“Xīngān,” Khiêm says softly, stroking my hair. “We’ll get to that later. Just… be right now, okay? Put away your phone.”
I know he’s right, but I feel like I need to do something. Anything. I can’t sit here and do nothing. I can’t.
Shaughna walks in with the twins right when I feel like I’m going to spiral, and she seems to sense that right away. She puts one of the toddlers, Luke, on my lap and hands me a book to read him.
“Look, you don’t have to-” Dshawn starts, but I open the book and start reading. Everyone falls silent, listening to the story of a dragon that can’t produce fire and is laughed at by all the other dragons. In the end, it turns out he can produce water instead, making him the first water dragon, and all the others turn to him when they accidentally set things on fire, making him a dragon fire fighter.
It’s a silly story, but it makes Luke giggle, and that sound makes everything better. Everyone focuses on watching Luke and his twin sister laugh and throw up their fists at exciting parts of the story. We ignore the dark cloud above our heads for a moment. It’s too much to deal with right now.
“The family of Creed Davis?” a tall doctor asks, walking into the waiting room.
“That’s us,” Dshawn says, taking the lead. “How is he doing?”
“The surgery went well, he will wake up in about twenty minutes. You can go see him shortly, but not all at once. That’s a bit much for one small hospital room. He’s got a cast on his left arm, and he might be a little groggy from the anesthesia, but otherwise he should be fine.” The doctor starts a lengthy medical explanation that we’d normally all leave to Creed to interpret, but he’s the one in the hospital bed, so Marcus, Dshawn and I try to focus while Pierre and Aliyah hug each other in relief.
Marcus and Dshawn go in first, and I turn to Khiêm while we wait. “We need to move into the house with Aliyah and Pierre.”
“If that’s what we need to do, you know I’m in,” Khiêm says simply, not even missing a beat. “I really do think it’s too soon to think about things like that, Nia. Focus on Creed for now. The rest will follow.”
I know it will, but when I get to see Creed ten minutes later, seeing his strong, solid body in that bed, looking so fragile and broken… I break too. I pull myself back together, but it’s not easy. I know I need to be strong right now, and that stress is bad for the baby, but it’s so fucking hard to stay sane.
My brother just got out of surgery. My parents were killed in a car accident.
What the fuck are we supposed to do now?
“Shaughna and I will move in here for good,” Dshawn says like it’s a done deal. “I’m the oldest. I need to do this. I want to do this.”
“You have two toddlers to take care of,” Creed argues. “I will just drop out of college and move back here, get a job.”
“No way, there is no need for that, I’ve got it,” Dshawn insists. “I’m 40, I’ve got money saved, Shaughna and I have been together for years, and we’re already raising two kids together. We can add Aliyah to the mix. And Pierre, until he goes off to college.”
“You’ve got two toddlers,” Creed argues. “And not one, but three businesses to take care of. I’m 22, I can do this. Let me do this.”
“No one needs to take me on,” Pierre cuts in. “I’m 18, I was supposed to move out after the summer anyway. As long as I can crash with one of you until the semester starts, I’m good. I will figure something out moneywise. I will just… get three jobs or something.”
“We’ve got you,” Dshawn tells our 18-year-old brother. “I’ve got some savings, I will help put you through college. It’s Aliyah we need to focus on. She’s only 14.”
While they keep arguing, I lock eyes with Marcus. He gives me a wry smile, and I know we’re both thinking the same thing. Why isn’t Aliyah here to weigh in on this?
The past month was brutal. First, we had to listen to the police tell us what happened to our parents. Then, Dshawn went with them to identify their bodies, and judging by the nightmares he’s been having, we should all be grateful he took that bullet for us. They were barely recognizable, apparently, but I try not to think about that. Then, there was the funeral, which was horrible, but also a huge comfort, at least to me. There were so many people there. We’ve all got so many friends, and so did our parents. We didn’t even all fit into the church. It was beautiful in a very sad way.
Pierre and Aliyah had one more month left before the school year was over. Pierre graduated and got into a college two towns over with a small scholarship, so I’m sure between all of us we will be able to get enough money together for him to go there despite our parents passing away. Aliyah will be going to high school after the summer, so we need to figure out where she will live the next four years. Who will take care of her?
We’ve basically all been living in our parents’ old house the past weeks, trying to make sure Aliyah and Pierre would finish the year properly, and helping each other through our grief. We’ve all got our own lives, though, so this can’t go on forever. It’s the first day of the Summer Break, Aliyah just went to bed, and we’ve been arguing about this for an hour now.
There are two questions we need to answer. Do we keep our parents’ house and have one of more of us move in here, or does Aliyah move in with one of us? And who will it be?
Dshawn and Shaughna have two toddlers and their own business, and they just remodeled their house. They may be older than all of us, but I don’t think they’d be a good fit for Aliyah. Dshawn is amazing, but he didn’t grow up with us. He was 26 when Aliyah was born. On the one hand that makes him sort of a father figure to her, but I think she needs someone she’s got more of a bond with. She’s a sensitive kid.
Creed is only 22, and he is trying to make his dream of becoming a radiologist a reality, and I doubt he will stop there. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up as some award-winning surgeon one day. He’s in this amazing program, and he loves living in the dorms. No one is going to allow him to drop out and move back here. No way.
Pierre is only 18, and he’s going off to college after the summer. Enough said.
That leaves me and Marcus. Khiêm and I are expecting our little girl in two months, but we’re both more than willing to move into my childhood home. It’s a great neighborhood, and we both love Aliyah to death. If she’d rather move in with us, that’s fine too. It might be a little cramped, but I’m sure we can move into a bigger place soon enough. Aliyah and I get along great, and she likes Khiêm more than she likes Shaughna, so I think it would be fine.
And Marcus… he’s 27, lives alone in his big apartment, has a great job, and would do anything and everything for any of us. Aliyah adores him. He would be a great fit for her.
“Guys,” Marcus says sharply when the argument gets a little too heated. “We should just ask Aliyah what she wants. We all know it’s going to be either me or Nia, or maybe both of us. Not any of you.”
“Nia is seven months pregnant,” Dshawn says, shaking his head. “And you… well, I don’t want to burden you with this.”
“Aliyah isn’t a burden,” Marcus says, and I know he means it. I feel the same way. “I love her. I’d love to take care of her. And it’s not like I’d be doing it alone. I know we’d all be doing it together no matter where we all live.”
Before Creed can finish his sentence, Aliyah walks into the room, her eyes blazing, looking fierce even though she’s in her pink pajamas. “I’m moving in with Marcus.”
“Great,” he says immediately. “I’d love that.”
“Aliyah, we still need to-”
She cuts Dshawn off right away. “Look, I’m not stupid. I know I’m the one you’re talking about. I’m the only one underage, after all. Mom and Dad weren’t rich, not even close, so this house will take years and years to pay off. It doesn’t make sense to keep it just because it might be easier on me or whatever. I hate feeling like they might walk in any second, so I’d honestly rather leave. We’re going to need Dsahwn’s savings to help put Pierre and Creed through college, so we shouldn’t take on this mortgage on top of it. As for who I should live with…” She sighs. “Pierre and Creed are in college, Nia is pregnant, and Dshawn has two kids. Marcus lives alone, I’ve already got my own room there because I spend one or two nights there every single week, and he lives in the same school district as Mom and Dad, so I can stay with my friends next school year.”
We all fall silent, and Marcus and I share a knowing look. We’ve been making this argument for days. It just makes sense. I feel bad for not doing my part, but I know this is better for Aliyah. She needs someone’s undivided attention, and Marcus can give that to her. He’s a calm and collected guy, and we all lean on him for guidance. Him and Aliyah have always been close, and no offence to Dshawn, but Marcus feels like the oldest brother. Dshawn didn’t grow up with us because of the age difference, and while he did visit a lot, it was Marcus who was always on babysitting duty when we were little, and he did it without complaining. He’s always been like an extra parent to the rest of us, and a brother at the same time.
“Besides, I know that me being 14 sucks for all of you,” Aliyah goes on, sniffling a little. “I wish I was 18 like Pierre, but I’m not. At least with Marcus, I won’t feel like a burden.”
“Oh honey, you’re not a burden,” I say right away.
She smiles through her tears, and moves closer to hug me, which is a little awkward with my big belly. “I know, I know, you all love me, and I love you too, but none of you thought you’d end up having to take care of me for four years, did you?”
Marcus sighs. “No, we didn’t. I hate it. Not because I don’t want you to live with me, because you know I do, but because none of us want Mom and Dad to be gone.”
We all fall silent, and Aliyah sinks down on the chair between me and Marcus, grabbing our hands. We stay like that for a long time, and then I pull out my phone, needing to do something. I start making a list of everything we’ll need to take care of this summer so everyone will be set. Creed and Pierre’s tuition, selling the house, going through all the stuff and furniture and divide it between all of us or sell it, move Aliyah into Marcus’ apartment, file paperwork to make him her legal guardian, call her school… The list goes on and on.
When the doorbell sounds, we all look up in surprise. Who could that be? Shaughna and Khiêm know this is a night for just us siblings, giving us some space. I try to get up, but Pierre pushes me back down and hurries to get the door. He comes back with Aston, who is carrying a huge bottle of tequila.
“I don’t drink much anymore, but I think we all need this,” he says, setting it down on the table and moving to the kitchen for shot glasses. “I’m sorry if I’m intruding on a family moment, but I couldn’t be at home anymore. I’ve been trying to give you guys space, but I fucking miss them too.”
“Dude, you’re family,” Dshawn says, getting up to hug him. “You’re my brother.”
“Yeah, Aston, you’re one of us,” Creed agreed, grabbing a chair for him. “Do you want to argue with us about where Aliyah should live?”
Aston gives us all a strange look. “Erm… I assume that you’re selling the house and that Aliyah wants to live with Marcus? Why are you arguing about that?”
Suddenly, everyone burst out laughing. We’ve been dealing with this for a month, trying to find a solution, and it’s Aliyah and Aston who knew all along how this would end. Figures.
“Oh no,” Aston says when Aliyah moves to grab a shot glass. “You’re drinking water, little one. Asia would claw her way out of her grave and suck out my brains with a straw if I gave her baby girl tequila.”
“Mom loved tequila,” she counters, huffing.
“She got pregnant with senior dipshit over there when she was only 16,” Aston says, motioning to Dshawn. “Your mother was an amazing woman, but you might not want to copy everything she ever did, Aliyah.”
“Dude, where have you been all month? We could have used this attitude,” Creed says, laughing as he raises his shot glass. “To Mom and Dad.”
“To Asia and Terryl,” Aston agrees.
We all raise our glasses and hit back the tequila – well, aside from me and Aliyah, of course. Pregnant ladies and 14-year-old girls shouldn’t drink alcohol, after all.
We spend the rest of the night talking and laughing. Even though the loss of our parents is still weighing heavy on us, it feels like we might just make it through this.
The story is continued in “Guarded Marcus”. What happens when Aliyah moves in with him and he’s suddenly sort of a single dad? With his ex-girlfriend Bee back in his life and his old hook-up Gracie moving into town, Marcus only knows one thing to do in order to deal with all the stress. He pulls up his walls and focuses on his younger sister. No distractions. No matter how sexy and tempting. NO DISTRACTIONS. Life throws him some wicked curveballs, but Marcus is sure he can deal with them. Sort of. Maybe. Probably not. He’ll try, though.
I just posted the first chapter of his book, so GO READ!!
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